Heal your gut

Yesterday I had a table at a Health & Wellness Expo. I had a great day getting to know some new people and connecting with like minded folks.

Just for kicks’n’giggles, I took along a bottle of kombucha, one of coconut water kefir, and one of spring water kefir with raspberries. Only a few people tried them, but generally were well received. One person made a face at the vinegary-ness of the kombucha; she preferred the coconut water kefir. Everybody’s different, so find what works for you.

Everyone who did try, and lots who didn’t try them, asked “what exactly do we need these for?”

Well! Let me tell you :)

As you know, I’m somewhat of a know-it-all when it comes to autoimmune disease. No, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so sometimes the sciency bits of it will confound me, but I still like to geek out and read studies on PubMed. I also live with autoimmune disease myself, with celiac, psoriasis and Sjogren’s syndrome, plus having had Grave’s disease, now in remission. Plus, my day job is at a charitable foundation that raises money for research into type 1 diabetes, so you could say I live and breathe autoimmunity 24/7.

What I’ve learned over the years is that science has now found a triad of things that must be in place in a body for a person to have an autoimmune disease. First, one must have a genetic predisposition to it. If you have a first line family member (parent or sibling) who has autoimmune disease, then you are also likely to be susceptible. Probability of autoimmunity is also there if you have a grandparent or aunt or uncle or cousin who has one. You don’t even necessarily have the same autoimmune disease, but the susceptibility to autoimmunity is there. My father has psoriasis. I remember that from when I was a kid. My father’s mother also had an autoimmune disease, polymyalgia. So, my aunts, and my cousins on that side of the family may also susceptible.

My grandmother on my mother’s side had pancreatitis, which is now thought to be autoimmune in nature, and her sister had Parkinson’s which is also now thought to be autoimmune. So, my sisters, aunts, and cousins and my mother may also be susceptible.

Second of the triad is a trigger. You must have something that pulls that trigger to “turn on” the gene(s). The trigger could be a viral or bacterial infection. Epstein-Barr is thought to be a trigger to Multiple Sclerosis. The trigger may also be an emotional or physically traumatic experience. A death of a loved one, loss of a job, or car accident. I’m certain the trigger for celiac with me was childhood abuse, and the trigger for Grave’s was likely the ruptured ectopic pregnancy I had when I was 21. I’m not sure exactly when or how Sjogren’s was triggered, I had thought it was just a couple of years ago when I started to notice that my mouth was burning, but after learning more about the disease recently, I think it was a few years before that, and all that vertigo I struggled with for over a year was Sjogren’s. I’ve also since learned that you can have the disease for up to 10 years before symptoms become blatant enough to be recognized. And then it can take another 7 to 10 years for doctors to diagnose! This is why autoimmune disease is so difficult to heal, you can have it for 20 years before you even know what you’re treating.

The third in this evil triad is you have a leaky gut. Science has now shown that for every person who has an autoimmune disease, they also have leaky gut. Not just those of us with the small intestinal damage caused by celiac disease. Everyone who has autoimmune disease.

So, THAT’S why we need to have fermented beverages. And because they’re yummy and refreshing and hydrating.  

We also need to eat fermented foods, (probiotics) things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and brine preserved olives and pickles (foods “pickled” with vinegar do not contain probiotics. Look for brine pickling methods). If you’re not making these yourself, check the ingredients listing on the jars before you buy them. Don’t get ones that have a long list of ingredients, unless they’re all foods that you can identify. Some sauerkraut include cabbage, carrots, and ginger and other real foods.  Kimchi is Korean spicy sauerkraut basically, and will have hot peppers listed. If the label has anything other than food, find something else. Or make your own. It’s stupid easy! Go do a search on YouTube, there are dozens upon dozens of videos to show you how. But don’t make it too difficult on yourself. You don’t *need* an airlock, you just have to remember to go “burp” your jar at least once a day so you don’t end up with cabbage all over your kitchen ceiling ;)  

You can also take probiotic supplements. Talk to someone in the health food store and ask them which is a good brand, and tell them what your goal is when taking these. If you’ve just taken a course of antibiotics and you don’t have an autoimmune disease, you may be able to get away with taking these for only a month or so. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may need to take them longer. And remember, these are SUPPLEMENTS. They’re not instead of a healthy gut healing diet!

Healing your gut is not just getting some probiotics into you. You also need to populate your gut with pre-biotics. Prebiotics are foods that the probiotics like to eat to get strong and healthy to take over the bad bacteria and yeast living in your gut up till now. Prebiotic foods are indigestible plant fiber from foods like onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, dandelion leaves, (they’re good in salad!) and banana. Eat the banana while still green, and you also get the added benefit of “resistant starch”, which is additional prebiotics that help to feed the probiotics. A diet high in fiber helps to clean out the gut, not just because it scrubs it out, but because it’s helping to feed the probiotics to make them bigger and stronger and to grow in population, to crowd out the bad ugly icky bacteria and yeast in there!

You also need to eat other gut healing foods, like some home-made bone broth, and organ meats, or include collagen in your daily routine somehow. I make bone broth occasionally, but I also put a collagen powder in my breakfast smoothies, so that I know I’m getting enough to help heal my gut and seal it up so those nasty bugses aren’t getting into places they shouldn’t be. I also like to make liver pate from either pig liver or chicken livers. Beef liver is a bit stronger in flavour, and I prefer that for meatloaf or burgers.

As if contributing to the trigger for autoimmune disease isn’t bad enough, an unbalanced gut microbiome can also cause us to be bloated, gain weight and crave foods we ought not be eating! Evil bad bacteria and yeast in the gut only want to eat foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Foods like cookies, and cakes, and pizza, and other carbage. So, when you start craving that Snickers bar or bag of potato chips every afternoon, it’s the bacteria in your gut telling you they’re hungry and you need to feed them pronto! If you eat some raw fruit or veggies instead, or better yet, a serving of brined pickles and olives with a bit of raw cheese (another good probiotic food if you tolerate dairy!), the good start to take over the bad, and you won’t have those cravings for carbage anymore.

People with autoimmune disease are not the only ones who may have leaky gut. Those without AIs can also have an unbalanced microbiome, but they likely don’t have the other 2 things in place, genetics and the trigger puller. So, these tips are good for everybody who may be experiencing symptoms of a bad gut. Namely bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhea, belly fat, inability to lose weight, and cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates.

I drink some kombucha or kefir every day. I alternate between them because they each have different strains of bacteria and yeast, and we want to be in balance. Even too much of a good thing is too much. Like the other day I overindulged in some coconut milk kefir, and had some rumbly gurgles in my gut for a while afterward. That’s the good stuff making their way through my gut punching out the bad stuff. Which is a good thing, but too much good thing and the resulting rumble can be somewhat like the Outsiders vs. the Socs and can be a bit uncomfortable. And there will be flatulence! No doubt about that!

If you’re just starting out with adding fermented foods to your routine, start with small servings. If you’re drinking kombucha or kefir or kvass (why is it that fermented beverages all start with k? hmmmm…) start with maybe ¼ cup serving, about 20 minutes before you eat a meal. For me, I take my supplements in the morning with some kombucha or kefir water. The only supplements I currently take are omega 3 fish oil, and Vitamin D3. You can also add kefir water or coconut milk kefir to your breakfast smoothie, or some raw apple cider vinegar even.

When adding fermented foods like sauerkraut, start with smaller portion sizes to see how it goes. If you’re ok with dairy, yoghurt is also good, but stay away from the brands that have a long list of ingredients and any added sugars. (even the brands that claim to be good for your gut!) You’re just creating a see-saw effect really, and the bad bacteria in your gut will win that rumble by feasting on the sugars, and because they outnumber the good that will be in the yogurt. If you can find raw plain yogurt, go with that. The ingredients should list only milk and/or cream, and bacterial cultures. That’s it! Go for the highest fat content you can find. I love some 10% MF yogurt! It’s so decadent!

Well, there you have it friends! Let’s start healing that gut of yours. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment for a health history consult and talk about your microbiome, click here to contact me. Or send me an email to rebecca@rebaweber.ca

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